Examining the State of Accessibility in the Shreveport LGBT Community

Note: This article is not meant to address or encompass the entire spectrum of challenges that the local LGBT+ community encounters in our area. It is a body of work meant to inspire conversation, create connection and generate the beginnings of solutions; it is written from one perspective, my own.
[INHALES, EXHALES]

This is utterly and completely terrifying sharing my “journal” thoughts out into the world but if a single person finds solace in there being someone else with the same sentiments and concerns, I’m glad to do so. Most readers here will have zero idea who I am, much less find themselves concerned with the grievances aired in this op-ed but nevertheless!

Recently, I [stupidly] shared a Facebook post where I, essentially, expressed my thoughts on the state of the LGBT+ experience in Shreveport and Bossier City (at least as it concerns me and I was terrified to do so). Why was I terrified you ask? Because the internet can certainly be a death trap for all thoughts and any and everything is subject to extreme scrutiny, even comma placement. However, I took a leap and put it all out there like a Hustler Club stripper on a Saturday night; find the aforementioned post below:

Assertion: The Shreveport-Bossier LGBT community is at times toxic, regressive, and clique-ish. There are almost no mediums for forming a stronger community especially as it pertains to young people and garnering a healthy sense of identity.

Does anyone else feel this way or portions of the sentiment? These problems are not exclusive to our cities by any means but we also don’t have as much engagement in the ways other cities with arguably a more diverse and more dialed-in populace exist. Is it because we just hope someone else will do more? Is it because the people who are doing need more help? More diverse ideas? Better ways to engage the entire community? More resources? Is it cultural? Trying to understand.

Change my mind. What are programs and ways we are all actively working to improve the above noted issues IN our cities? Asking for a sincerely ready and able-bodied young person who wants to help.

Note to the peanut gallery: if you have no interest in LGBT conversations, step away from the keyboard and continue to enjoy your Satur[day].

[CUE] Someone, somewhere screaming “the gay agenda is alive and real” at their computer screen. Quote me on that.

Now that I’ve upped the ante and have ensured at least one angry comment, let’s continue.

From this status a stream of comments came flooding in from my friends all offering their own perceptions of what it’s like to be a youth in this city, while trying to intermingle with the LGBT+ community. Here are a few notable responses:

“I have struggled with this perception a lot,” one commenter wrote. “I don’t drink at all, but most LGBT community engagement takes place at one of three-ish gay bars in town. There is a need for more LGBT specific resources for youth and adults alike to find community, especially outside of bars, but there isn’t a great push for it either from what I have perceived.”

[Steven] I think it’s the entire community period. Not just the LGBT. It’s a cultural thing and a small town in a big city. Having lived all over the world, this is the only culture shock I experience.

Another commenter: “I’d love if my students had a safe place to go and be themselves and meet other like-minded people their own age from around the area.”

And another: “I don’t live in SBC anymore, but when I did a coffee or lunch/dinner meetup would have been perfect. I tried going to PACEs monthly dinner thing at Marilynn’s Place a few times but the crowd just wasn’t right for me; a younger, more diverse group doing the same thing would have been so great.”

Another: “Okay, so, regarding your opening statement that the GLBT community (I put it in that order for a reason) is toxic, regressive, and clique-ish: you’re absolutely right. I’ve basically been around the SBC gay bar scene for almost 20 years (off and on) because I had to sneak up the backstairs to get into Central back in the day, and it’s the same people all the time. The crowdscape will always shift a little because people move away or get tired of seeing the same people every Friday and Saturday night, and then the new batch of 20-somethings arrive and it’s great until they’re not shiny and new anymore and they fade into the landscape. Or, you know, they turn 30.That’s where the toxicity and the clique-ishness come in. You’ve been seeing these same people since you turned 21 because this has always been Your Space. It’s not just Central, Korner and now Mylestone are the same way. The minute you have regulars, they will declare it Their Space and gatekeeping is in the offing. But that happens in various subcultures, too.”

Still another: “The regressiveness you detect is the fact that we’re in the South, which is a breeding ground for conservative, gay, white men who are just as racist, sexist, and transphobic as their straight counterparts. They’ll gladly fight tooth and nail for their own causes, but lose their shit if you call them out for using the t-word or explain to them that they are not a Sassy Black Woman named Watermelondrea on the inside. Because it’s just a joke, lighten up!”

And one more commenter: “I know I’m talking about gay white dudes at bars a lot, but they’re 90% of the GLBT scene in Shreveport. Again, clique-ishness. The lesbians used to have their own bar, but I don’t know a single lesbian in Shreveport to verify its current state. This is due to the insular nature of GLBT spaces I went to. I think every woman I knew that wasn’t straight has since moved away. The other problem is that there’s a bit of a gulf between the GLBT POC and the white GLBT communities.”

These were just a few comments and as I started to see more peers get behind the idea that something needs to be done to generate more accessible programming, I couldn’t help but find myself ready to engage. While I cannot say that there are no activities for people within the LGBT community in Shreveport and Bossier, I do feel that the appeal of these events don’t reach everyone. There has to be more effort invested into servicing a wider audience than our 21+ crowd, not just in the LGBT+ community but this city. The point being is that not everyone will enjoy a club, bar, or party even those of us who CAN get past the door, especially, as a primary source of entertainment or basis for community. When we take away all of that what’s left? Dating apps where people treat you like crap and you learn that dating sucks? Yuck! We need to be more creative in the way we cater to our community.

This certainly is no slight at LGBT+ nightlife, but it is a plea for there to be community development. Sure, I love a good drag show at Central as much as the next person but what more are we doing outside of our larger events (North Louisiana Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Pride in the Park)? I mean, let’s face it, Gerald from down the street isn’t going to Pink Party anytime soon. Party culture is easy to push, who doesn’t love a good drink (probably, a lot of people) but there’s so much we are failing to address: mental and sexual health education, recovery and support because whether or not we want to admit it, drugs are a serious problem, professional and job training opportunities, I could go on! Of course, I cannot disregard all of the amazing work and strides both PACE (People Acting for Equality and Change) and The Philadelphia Center have made in our community. PACE recently held a mayoral candidate forum that was not only insightful but engaging, they host the North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (coming up Sept. 7th – 13th), program events into our community like Pride in the Park and advocate for our rights in the LGBT+ community locally and nationally. The Philadelphia Center is amazing and undeniably a safe place for those who have questions about sexual health, particularly with a focus on HIV/AID prevention, they work tirelessly day in and out providing counseling, support and educational resources for the community but for those of us not in the know it feels like we’re left out in the cold.

I don’t claim to have the “right” answers but I’m frustrated (as I’m sure many of us are). I find it’s not outrageous to believe one could live their entire life in Shreveport and never attend any of our current events targeted to the LGBT+. I’ve been out for nearly seven years, actively seeking community for possibly five and I still feel directionless in finding communal spaces where I can make real, lasting connections. Let’s think about all the people out there who may need support or are seeking a community but are hesitant to do so because there are no easy points of entry or what is currently available doesn’t appeal. This city has been taking a hard look at itself recently and we’re all working to make this somewhere more than just a place to live, but a home.

So what can we do to meet in the middle? There are so many incredible brains and inspiring people who are LGBT+ in this city and allies surrounding us but we have to do better for one another. Think deeply about the kind of Shreveport you want those who will succeed us to grow up in. Shouldn’t it be a place where they are comfortable being who they are, can engage in safe and fun activities with friends, where if they ever had questions and needed answers there were resources and individuals available to help them? Maybe we shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel, others have endured and overcome the very issues I’ve noted: disengagement, inaccessibility, lack of diverse voices, incremental appeal. You’d be surprised what a dinner or exercise group could do for someone or coffee and conversation with a small group. Monthly or bi-weekly lunch/dinner meetups; being able to gather to simply air grievances with those enduring the same issues as yourself. Think of the connection that can be made if we started regularly utilizing and supporting businesses that support us (Port Grill, Marilynn’s Place, Southern Faire, Robinson Film Center and I’m sure many more!). The positive impact you would be creating in your community is amazing and you’re arming yourself with the knowledge that there are people who support you too. It is so possible to do this!

I have no doubts in my heart that we can have a stronger community but we have to stop being afraid of honesty and start talking with one another, we certainly have to be willing to work together. It is not going to be easy, people will not readily share space with those different than themselves but it’s time we have the difficult conversations because it’s not just people outside of the LGBT+ community, we are also our own barrier. Right now, I’m terrified. Not because I think I’ll hurt someone’s feelings or people will be up in arms for some weird reason but because positive change means work and work means obstacles and resistance. I’m not any sort of champion but what I am is someone who is crazy enough to want to find reasons to stay in my hometown.

This city and its people deserve a chance to be happy here, all of us do, and I’m ready to pick up the shovel to make it happen.